A Slow Start for Deer Hunting: A Slow Start to the Deer Hunting Season
By DAVID BRENSILVER Published on 12/9/2005
Lyme - This season's warm weather apparently has reduced the number of deer killed by hunters, compared to last year, state wildlife experts report.
According to Department of Environmental Protection wildlife technician Andrew Labonte, hunters killed 5,825 deer the first two weeks of the hunting season, which began Nov. 16, about 400 fewer they killed during the same period last year.
Labonte said unseasonably mild conditions likely contributed to the decline.
Ron Rando, whose East Lyme store, Ron's Guns, is an official station for hunters to register their kills, agreed.
“Warm weather, I think, has a lot to do with it,” he said.
Both Labonte and Rando said deer don't move around as much during warm weather, making it more difficult for hunters to see and shoot them.
The reduced kill comes at a time when the state is encouraging hunters to take more deer in shoreline regions.
The DEP has allowed the use of bait since 2002 in shoreline zones, and replacement tags are given to hunters who have killed female deer. That means that a hunter can harvest a limitless number of female deer. Does produce two fawns per year, on average, Howard Kilpatrick, a wildlife biologist with the DEP, said.
This year, he said, the DEP is giving hunters a free replacement tag for every three antlerless deer checked in, plus a bonus buck tag.
Hunters using rifles receive permits to kill one buck and one doe per season. Archers are permitted to triple that number.
On a sunny Thursday morning last week, deer hunters – five of them over the course of one hour – arrived at Ron's Guns with their harvests.
Lyme residents Art Welch, 36, and Patrick Stevens, 18, arrived to check in their bounty: Welch's three-point buck, which he shot in Ledyard, and a doe Stevens shot in Salem.
Both were hunting with rifles on private land. Hunters need written permission from land owners to hunt on private land.
Rando said he checked in 339 deer, as of Dec. 1. That's down about 100 from the same time last year, he estimated. On opening day this year, for example, Rando said he checked in about 10 less deer than he did a year ago.
Dave Gumbart is assistant director of land management for The Nature Conservancy. His organization's interest in the state's deer populations has to do with the over-browsing of vegetation, and encouraging a balance among all species that should be in one area.
Gumbart talked about alternative deer management options, such as contraceptive darts.
“Current data shows that it only lasts, basically, a season,” Gumbart said.
And trapping and relocating deer, Gumbart said, often results in high mortality rates due to stress on the animals, and is expensive.
“There is definitely a large group of people that continue to hunt” in the area, Gumbart said, talking in terms of culture.
The Nature Conservancy organized deer hunts on some of its land this season, including 40 or so acres in the Selden Creek Preserve, in Lyme.
Kilpatrick said once deer populations exceed 15-20 per square mile, they can begin to impact forest ecosystems.
Every three years, the DEP conducts aerial surveys in different deer management zones. The department is trying to reduce the populations in zones 11 and 12. Zone 12 includes, in part, areas in East Lyme, Lyme and Old Lyme.
Kilpatrick said harvesting has become more important, in part, due to the loss of habitat for wolves and mountain lions.
He said a 3-year-old survey listed the deer population in the state at 76,000, but added that number is very conservative. Labonte said the number could be twice that.
Kilpatrick said there are roughly 35,000 deer hunters in Connecticut, and that the DEP sells some 60,000-70,000 hunting permits annually.
Kilpatrick said the “harvest has definitely gone up with all these different incentive programs that we have in place.”
The DEP, he said, supports The Nature Conservancy's deer management programs, and helps to implement hunts.
While the season, which opened Nov. 16, will close in all zones for those hunting with rifles on Dec. 20, bow-hunting in zones 11 and 12 will be allowed through January – another incentive to maximize harvesting.
“These are the areas we're targeting to kill more deer,” Kilpatrick said.